Skip to comments.The American Biblical Tradition: The King James Version used to be our common text
Posted on 07/09/2006 12:40:32 PM PDT by hiho hiho
In 1911 the English-speaking world paused to mark the 300th anniversary of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, with American political leaders foremost in the chorus of exaltation. To former president Theodore Roosevelt, this Bible translation was "the Magna Carta of the poor and the oppressed . . . the most democratic book in the world." Soon-to-be president Woodrow Wilson said much the same thing: "The Bible (with its individual value of the human soul) is undoubtedly the book that has made democracy and been the source of all progress."
Americans at the time mostly agreed with these sentiments, because the impact of the KJV was everywhere so obvious. It was obvious for business, with major firms like Harper & Brothers having risen to prominence on the back of its Bible publishing. It was obvious in the physical landscape and in many households because of the widespread use of Bible names for American places (95 variations on Salem) and the nation's children (John, James, Sarah, Rebecca). It was obvious in literature, as with the memorable opening of Herman Melville's Moby Dick: "Call me Ishmael." And it was obvious in politics, with no occasion more memorable than March 4, 1865, when four quotations from the KJV framed Abraham Lincoln's incomparable Second Inaugural Address: Genesis 3:19 ("wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces"); Matthew 18:7 ("woe unto the world because of offences!"); Matthew 7:1 ("judge not that we be not judged"); and Psalm 19:9 ("the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether").
(Excerpt) Read more at opinionjournal.com ...
"The 300 word limit required this to be unmercifully chopped up!"
Because the KJV was so widely read for religious purposes, it had also become a source of public ideals. Because it was so central in the churches, and because the churches were so central to the culture, the KJV functioned also as a common reservoir for the language. Hundreds of phrases (clear as crystal, powers that be, root of the matter, a perfect Babel, two-edged sword) and thousands of words (arguments, city, conflict, humanity, legacy, network, voiceless, zeal) were in the common speech because they had first been in this translation. Or to be more precise, because they had been in the KJV or in the earlier translations, like those of John Wycliffe's followers (1390s) and William Tyndale (1520s), that King James' translators mined for their own version.
But during the past half-century, we have come into a new situation. For believers who read the Bible because they think it is true, a welter of modern translations compete for the space once dominated by the KJV. For the public at large, the linguistic and narrative place that for more than two centuries had been occupied by the KJV is now substantially filled by the omnipresent electronic media. The domains that have been most successfully popularized by television, the movies and the Internet are sport, crime, pornography, politics, warfare, medicine and the media itself. Within these domains there is minimal place for biblical themes of any sort, much less the ancient language of the KJV.
For some purposes, it is well that the KJV has lost its hold. Roman Catholics and Jews were once victims of coercive discrimination when they were forced to recite this Protestant translation of the Bible in the nation's public schools. And at many moments, like the Civil War, free use of this one version made it all too easy to transgress the boundary between the proper business of the churches and the proper business of the public sphere.
Yet if the KJV was sometimes abused, nearly universal use also meant that its spiritual themes of reproof and liberation, its stories of human sin and divine grace, also exerted a great influence for good. In the 1890s Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other aggrieved feminists published "The Woman's Bible" in an effort to counter interpretations of Scripture that had done women harm. When they asked others to comment, Frances Willard of the Women's Christian Temperance Union made a telling response: "No such woman, as Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with her heart aflame against all forms of injustice and of cruelty . . . has ever been produced in a country where the Bible was not incorporated into the thoughts and the affections of the people and had not been so during many generations."
It was the KJV that Willard meant as the Bible "incorporated" in American consciousness "during many generations." Today the legacy of the KJV remains fixed in the common speech, even if awareness of the language's debt to this translation is fading (another KJV word). Whether any modern translation of the Scriptures, or any other moral guide, can anchor the culture as the KJV once did, is a question worth serious consideration in the run-up to 2011 and the 400th anniversary of this unsurpassed cultural force.
Mr. Noll, professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, recently lectured on "The King James Version in American History" at the Library of Congress.
I prefer the New King James version. Very similar to the original but tweaked just a little.
Define "Tweaked." I have a 15th century Bible hand-copied from a version published soon after the Council at Nicea, AD 932, I believe. Granted that my latin is moderate, and my understanding of nouns reflects my own teachers' efforts way back when, but I find substantial difference between this copy and modern versions (I'm excluding the KJV, as my church doesn't recognize it) of the New American Bible and the Authorized version released in Latin before the Second Vatican Council.
My point is that translation changes and translations colored by cultural idiom change the content of the Bible dramatically, and what Christian doesn't cringe at the idea of someone messing with sacred scripture? Anyhow, I thought I'd add the old chestnut of being careful of what you ask for... as you might just get it.
BTB, best-known example from Matthew- (Can't remember ch:vs)
New American Version- "Peace on earth, and good will towards Men."
Knock Shrine copy (c.a. early 1400's) "Peace upon the Earth, and to Men of Good will."
Can anyone else see the enormous difference?
Inasmuch as the KJV has influenced (Positively, in my opinion) so much of our culture, the idiom of the times has altered the content, too.
I have seen the word Easter in place of Passover. Obviously Easter does not belong in the Bible anywhere.
Limit it to the OT and that wouldn't be a problem for most Jews, as the English translation of JH Hertz The Pentatuch and Haftorahs is predominantly KJ anyway.
Ping to read later
The only thing "authorized" about the King James Bible is the fact that King James (a pagan, mostly likely a homosexual) "authorized" the translation of the Bible.
The assumption that it is the "authorized" version for the Church is a definite misunderstanding of the title of the Book. Many entities were "authorized" by the Crown, even the liquor they served. The word "authorized" should not be used to give any additional weight to the KJV.
You raise an interesting point about the coercive discrimination of Catholics and Jews with the reading of
the KJV bible in the public schools. I'm a product of the NYC school system and old enough to remember that scripture reading. You are correct from the standpoint of image. Why should children be coerced to listen to scripture that their religious tradition doesn't accept? On the other hand, in reality, the reading to the best of my memory was always Old Testament, usually from the Psalms, which didn't offend any one at the time. The reading did bring a sense of order, discipline and even reverence to the classroom. It's sad that we can't work out some way to recapture that sense today.
That would be Mr. Noll's point, not mine.
It's interesting to hear from from someone that actually lived through the experiemce.
I would think the only way we could recapture some of the same experience today would be to repeat what was done in the past. Perhaps reading of the Bible considered as literature central to the American experience. Seems highly unlikely in this day and age since the educational establishment would have to consider a sense of history and some fleeting familiarity with the Bible to be worthwhile.
Beside the scripture reading I have a very vivid memory of being asked to pray, silently, for our invasion force on D-Day June 6,1944. The pervasive influence of the secular academics makes it all but impossible to recapture that climate today.
"The Authorized version of the King James Bible is the only one that should be trusted and is in our household.
"Unless you can read Greek and Hebrew."
I have a minor in Koine and study the Hebrew (and
can read it fairly well) and am considering a course in Biblical Hebrew.
And I read and study the New American Standard
"You've Got Mail"
Nah, Jesus had a British accent - I saw the movie in 8th grade. ;)
The KJV translators did a good job with what they had available to them at the time, but there are many translation errors (like "camel through the eye of a needle" when the Aramaic gave the much more sensible "rope through the eye of a needle") that needed to be corrected.
I haven't got a clue what the point is that you are trying to make.
The greek word is "kamelos" - what is the Aramaic?
I guess that must have been the other Litekeeper who wrote post no (
There is very little question that the language of the NT, at least the Gospels, was Aramaic. My question was whether "rope" was the better reading than "camel." Going from an Aramiac word, whatever it was, to "kamelos" would have to be a stretch.
I read Elberfelder. It is said to be far more accurate.